When trying to understand what it is like to work in a large law firm, I once came across this smart quip: “All you do is work and sleep, and you don't get enough sleep.” If you are a confirmed workaholic, a big law firm is both your heaven and haven – you are where you need to be.
When you work your way up the career ladder, the only thing that changes is the nature of work – you do less grunt work and work more on client management, and may be sometimes you can get home early. The only thing, happily, that one can say has changed over the years is that your job is no more at stake if you fail to make partner. Big law firms, today, are happy to allow “senior associates” to slog on ad infinitum. Previously, if you did not become a partner within the expected timeframe, you were expected to leave.
Having said that, let's consider the actual challenges faced by people while working in a large law firm:
Pay is fine, if you manage to get paid, that is. Now if you were an associate working for the nation's eighth largest law firm, Dewy & LeBoeuf – you know what that means.
Large law firms are extremely secretive in nature about policies and planning – there's always a big difference between policies that are preached and announced on websites, and the policies that control real decision making among partners and management.
Work is ultra-competitive and there are always small lobbies being formed around star lawyers
The bottom line is always money. In smaller law firms, camaraderie and loyalty counts. In bigger law firms the person who can bring in the most money and biggest clients is worshipped regardless of his/her professional integrity or learning
In globalized law firms, there is a big amount of culture shock and culture conflict, as well as suppressed racism. Lawyers are smart enough to avoid doing anything overly illegal and provable, and that's what makes it more challenging and more awful.
The bureaucracy can drive you insane – but it will teach you the importance, priorities, and patterns of law practice
“Work-life balance” is a myth in big law firms, though it is present in boutique law firms that lean more on learning and higher subject expertise than on mass delivery
It is difficult to ignore senior lawyers carrying chips on their shoulders who are bent upon forming disgruntled lobbies. The problem is that too often the causes of grievance are too true, only the remedies differ case to case.
Conflicts over resources are common as several people need the same copier at the same time
Though most people who join large law firms are looking to gather experience and put an employer brand on their resumes, along with good pay, for those who are on the partner track, the wait can be too long
As mentioned in the beginning, irregular hours, long hours, and the stressful nature of work takes a toll on both the mind and the body
Lots of traveling can be expected in large law firms which have several offices across the country or the world
However, the worst thing in large law firms is the impersonal attitude and false warmth. Everybody exudes love and warmth, but few, ever “feel” anything. No one is concerned about others, but concerned only with their own selves. An illustrative case would be Dewey & LeBeouf where partners were kept in the blind about the bankrupt financial situation by the executive committee, and when partners began to leave and were urged by the firm to do so, no one cared about the associates. They were still told to focus on their work and not think of other things. They could not leave, could not get their payments, and could not risk getting fired. Ultimately they received a shocking week's notice to inform them that their jobs were gone, and only at the time when more than seventy percent of the partners had already jumped ship. This would never happen in a small or boutique law firm. The culture is more humane, and people think of others as people and not as automatons.